Christ Lutheran Church Upper Darby
January 24, 2021 Worship Sermon - "The Time is Short"
Delivered by Rev. Stephen Keiser
Jeremiah 31:7-14; Psalm 147:12-20; Ephesians 1:3-14;John 1:[1-9] 10-18
“The time is short!”
I’ve shared before how when I was sixteen, I read a little pamphlet that offered what seemed to me at that time a very plausible argument that the world was going to end on September 19th, 1974. The argument was drawn from passages of scripture that described all the signs of the end times. A lot of it had to do with the date of the founding of the modern state of Israel and Jesus’ statement that “this generation will not pass away until all these things have been fulfilled.” I wasn’t so convinced by this argument that I was willing to drop out of school and walk around with a sign saying “The end is near!” But just in case those predictions were true, I thought it would be wise to clean up my act a bit and get ready to meet God. During the summer of that year, I started praying a bit more regularly. I read the Bible from cover to cover. I tried not to say hurtful things to the people around me.
When September 19th finally came around, I went through the day with a sense of nervous anticipation. I attended school during the day and then went to my part-time job in the afternoon. Hour by hour, the day passed and I went to bed that night just a little bit disappointed that Jesus hadn’t returned (at least not in the way that I expected) and the world was continuing pretty much the way it had on September 18th.
Or did it? In retrospect, some things did change for me that summer. I’d been pretty depressed before that and engaged in some unhealthy behaviors. I hadn’t very kind to my family and I had been angry with God for everything that seemed wrong with my life.
I remember that summer of 1974 very positively. By and large I was happier than I had been previously. Reading the Bible from cover to cover, I came to understand it as the story of a loving God who repeatedly rescues humanity from slavery and death. And praying every day helped me to feel closer to this loving God. My relationships with friends and family improved also, as I had been much more attentive to them.
The world didn’t come to an end on September 19th, 1974; but for me, the world changed so dramatically that there’s a way in which it did come to an end. I was different. That’s not to say that everything has been hunky-dory ever since. I still engage in self-destructive behaviors and say mean things to others. But that summer, in the process of preparing for end, my life actually improved.
“The time is short!” Paul tells us in Corinthians. That’s one of the themes running through all of our scriptures this morning. For Paul and the church in Corinth, there really was a sense that Jesus was going to return during their lifetime. So Paul encouraged people to live their lives accordingly. It made no sense to get married if Jesus might come before you had a chance to have kids. And what value was there to buying and selling if the world was passing away?
The world didn’t come to an end in exactly the way that Paul had expected, just like it didn’t come to an end in September, 1974. The promises of God would take a bit more time to fulfill. Recognizing this, we no longer follow Paul’s advice about refraining from marriage or making plans for the future.
Nevertheless, there is a way in which the world did come to an end for Paul and the people of Corinth, just like it will come to an end for all of us. All of our lives will end, if not through some kind of cosmic cataclysm, then through the cessation of our heartbeat.
There is wisdom in remembering this. It helps us to set our priorities… to determine what is really important… to decide what we are going to do with however many days we have left. Living with the realization that this life will not go on forever helps us to live this life in a happier and healthier way.
“The time is short!” Jonah tells the people of Nineveh. “Forty more days and your city will be destroyed!” The people of Nineveh heard what Jonah was saying and they changed their ways. Knowing that the end was near, they stopped their violence. They repented and became the kind of society they should have been all along. They cried out to God and God heard them and their society was healed.
“The time is short!” Jesus told the people of Galilee. “The kingdom of God has come near!” At least some of the people of Galilee heard what Jesus was saying and changed their lives accordingly. Simon and Andrew, James and John, left their boats and nets in order to begin a new life as fishers of people.
When I was a kid in Sunday School, we used to sing a song drawn from this passage in Mark: “I will make you fishers of men, fishers of men, fishers of men. I will make you fishers of men if you follow me.” As a kid, I really didn’t like that image. Fish die when you pull them out of the water, so asking the disciples to fish for people didn’t seem like a very noble calling.
Now I see that Jesus’ call is the opposite of what I had thought. The call to fish for people is a call to save them from whatever is drowning them. The call to fish for people is a call to baptize. Just as John fished Jesus out of the Jordan River on the day of his baptism, so Jesus invites his disciples – us – to fish people out of the waters of baptism. Drowning in the waters of baptism, we come face to face with our mortality. We come face to face with all the lies and idolatries we built our life upon. We realize that this life does come to an end and that many of the things we have invested ourselves in are passing away. Then, rising from the waters of baptism, we realize that we have been given life, not just months and years of life, but eternal life… which is life with God now in this world.
“The Kingdom of God has drawn near,” Jesus said. It’s among us now. That’s the good news Jesus invites us to proclaim. A new world is coming into being.